Woodsey Weflects: Hitman: Blood Money

Woodsey Weflects

Preface: In waiting for something new to actually review, I thought I'd try my hand at some retrospective-style pieces to keep my writing up. These will be a little less 'review-y' than my Woodsey Weviews stuff, instead concentrating much more on specific (and fairly 'wanky', but not entirely serious) points I want to explore as opposed to having to explain the finer details of game mechanics. I am going to be far more liberal when it comes to spoilers in these, so it's best if you've played them beforehand.

And I really am sorry about the awful title. (Again.)

Hitman: Blood Money was played on a PC.

The only thing shinier than Mr 47's big bald dome of a head is the piano wire he's about to shine your neck with.

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It's not the final few paces before a throat is cut.

It's not dropping a piano on an unsuspecting head.

It's not poisoning the secret bottle of whiskey.

It's not rigging the gas, lighting fixtures or pyrotechnics display.

It's not even tucking Claxo the Clown into the back of his van for a (clothes-less) snooze.

Nope. The best, most ball-tinglingly satisfying moments in Hitman: Blood Money are the moments around these intended highlights. On the way in, it's the last guard you see before your target loses the quite-vital ability to breathe. The final glance they give as Santa walks past them with a special present packed tightly into his trousers, reserved for the stud in the hot tub (...ahem). On the way out, it's the glance the new psychiatrist gets from the first rehab patient to arrive on the scene after another inmate, a member of the mafia, has been oh-so-tragically strangled by their own training weights. These moments of emergence damn even the slightest whiff of scripting, no matter how short, minor, or interesting, to a faint sense of inadequacy: whilst the kill is entertaining, these moments make it something special.

Someone had already checked out The Hungry Caterpillar.

The latest Bond film, Quantum of Solace, features a silent chase/gunfight/RUNAWAY!! scene at an opera house in Bregenz, as Tosca plays out in the background. [1] You might say it's 'pretty cool'. It's pretty cool. Hitman: Blood Money has a mission set in a theatre (this time in Paris), as rehearsals for Tosca are underway - at various intervals, the scene being rehearsed reaches a particularly dramatic crescendo. Where you are, what you're doing, what you're wearing, and what you're planning to do at these particular intervals is completely up in the air - the only thing that's likely is that, outwardly, it'll seem pretty mundane. In my last playthrough, I was walking down some stairs. I was also dressed in a security guard's 'borrowed' outfit. Having just planted a bomb on a chandelier which the co-leader of a child-slavery ring would be unfortunate enough to have fall on his bonce. And he'd be under the chandelier because he'd be running to his co-conspirator, one of the actors, who'd have been shot by a real (and very-much loaded) WWI pistol, which had been mysteriously exchanged with the prop gun.

Walking down the stairs was a lot cooler than watching Quantum of Solace' pretty cool CHASESHOOTRUN!! scene. The reason for this is fairly simple: dramatic irony. As players, not only are we the audience, but we are a character - and not just a character, but a character who's been blessed with a particularly malleable amount of choice. When that final guard glances up at you, or when you're walking down those stairs, it's almost impossible to not be giddy at the calm before the storm; the pre-cum before the load is well and truly blown. You're left to revel in your own ingenuity, with the added pleasure that none of the characters know just what the fuck is about to him them. In this sense, Hitman: Blood Money (along with the likes of Deus Ex and Thief) is a testament to the greatest design strengths of the medium.

Unfortunately, the game doesn't apply it's scripting philosophy of 'less is more' when it comes to it's writing. In fairness, it's not horrendous, and I can't imagine that writing a well-connected, in-depth plot is easy for a game whose design values stipulate the need for missions and locales which are as diverse as possible. But this does just beg the question of why they didn't strip it back to it's basics. When the crux of what makes your protagonist so special is that five aging criminals decided to jerk it into a petri dish and try to breed themselves some clones, it's probably best to leave it well-alone. (47's number is presumably derived from the average number of seconds it took each of them to 'finish' when they made his batch.) Likewise, attempts at political intrigue around such a concept probably aren't the best way to go. Instead, the plot would have been better served by focusing in on the existence of the stronger rival agency, and finding a way to ditch the cloning-angle all together.

With the rather silly turns of the story downplayed, Blood Money's core theme could have surfaced more easily. Namely, the one where 47's technically kind of Jesus. [2]

He's not the Messiah, he's a very naughty boy!

In the real world, most people (unless you're the type who posts relationship threads) would agree, I hope, that the ratio of alright chaps to ruddy-mean buggers is fairly solid: most people are just people, good bits and bad bits. 47's world is not like this. It's an amoral cesspit, where every target (beyond the 'Swing King' in the training level, admittedly) is a child-abuser, a member of the mob, a remorseless killer, a neo-Nazi. Even background NPCs are almost entirely vulgar caricatures: stretched faces, receded hairlines, veins as thick as my co- ... thick veins, whale-tail thongs, silicone implants up to their eyeballs. Depravity and gluttony emanates from each and every one of them: there is no one within this world to empathise with.

Conversely: 47 is quiet, swears only once, has no interest in women (nobody's perfect), and dresses smartly and normally (minus the shiny dominatrix gloves). Canonically, whilst he's perfectly happy to kill, he does not do so needlessly; Blood Money penalises you for wanton violence. An amoral world cannot generate a morally-virtuous, messianic saviour, and so Mr 47's the next best thing, doing the next best thing to self-sacrifice: fatally 'absolving' the worst 'sinners'. As each is bumped off, they disappear from the game's main menu's background, the church in which 47's funeral is held. The church in which he is also 'resurrected' by Diana, after she had put him into a near-death state. (Hopefully, the idea that a bald, cloned assassin is an allegory for a man-god is starting to sound marginally less ridiculous.)

Blood Money's opening theme, Ave Maria, [3] is a fairly significant contributor to this idea: a Catholic prayer asking for the Virgin Mary to pray for believers.[4] In this context, it would seem to be a sign of a divine blessing for 47's actions, or at least the search for a form of divine-approval of his actions. Less obvious is 47's faceless handler, Diana. The first time they meet in person (although not face-to-face) is in a confession box. The next time is to 'kill' 47 and then bring him back from the dead. Otherwise, she has no physical presence near him, acting as a 'voice of God' and providing 47 with instructions and equipment. The name Diana, incidentally, can mean 'heavenly' and 'divine', and Diana is also the Roman goddess of hunting. She fulfills a number of roles that a messianic-figure would probably need for support (I spent much of my time as a god re-enacting the early scenes from Bruce Almighty, so I personally couldn't comment), allowing 47 to get down with the trumpets of death. Presumably, her last name, Burnwood, is indicative of the reason why 47 has never tried to sleep with her. There's certainly enough to turn the game into a fairly ironic allegory, and it's a real shame that it's rather awkwardly handled whilst the half-arsed attempt at discussing human cloning is constantly shoved into the limelight; Blood Money is a game built upon it's little moments, it's background noise, and this is something that should have been emphasised within the plot and themes.

Looking back on it, Hitman: Blood Money is ultimately both an indicator of some of gaming's greatest strengths, as well as it's rather embarassing weaknesses. It's approach to level design, and the assuredness with which it embraces planning and thinking (as well as its rather dark sense of humour) is phenomenal, whilst it's unwilligness to shed it's rather creaky lore elements keep it shying away from embracing themes which, intentionally or not, it's surprisingly close to realising. Six years on, it's a game that's hopefully well on it's way to being recognised as a classic.

[1] This is the closest I can find to the original: as is the rule on YouTube, it is not possible for a scene to be uploaded without alterations made by someone who thinks they can do better.
[2] And now I've just invoked every English teacher's favourite trope.
[3] Listen to the game's version here.
[4] Wikipedia!

Interesting, given that I just managed to get my Steam copy of Hitman: Blood Money working this weekend. The opera mission was a particularly brilliant mission, though I took care to do it in the least efficient way possible - with a sniper!

TheBobmus:
Interesting, given that I just managed to get my Steam copy of Hitman: Blood Money working this weekend. The opera mission was a particularly brilliant mission, though I took care to do it in the least efficient way possible - with a sniper!

I've played it through so many times that I have favourite 'route' in missions which I always rinse and repeat. The Pistol swap/chandelier drop is always the way to go.

There is a mission on a boat later on though that I still have no clean way of doing.

 

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